Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Joining our Lady of Sorrows


 Using various allegories from Scripture this article explores the sorrows of our Lady and how we are called to join our Lady in Her Sorrows.

The Martyrdom of the Mother and Her Seven Sons


'The Martyrdom of the Maccabees', Jean Baptiste Vignaly, 1781.
In the Second Book of the Maccabees we read the account of the Jewish mother and her seven sons who were arrested by the Greek King Antiochus IV (215-164 B.C.) for having kept their Jewish religious customs against the tyrannical decree of the king. King Antiochus IV was the king of the Seleucid Empire, a Hellenistic state which was one of the empires formed out of the division of the empire of Alexander the Great upon his death. We read that “the king sent an Athenian senator to force the Jews to abandon the customs of their ancestors and live no longer by the laws of God; also to profane the temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus (Mac 6:1-2a). An extract from the account of the mother and her seven sons reads as follows:

It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, "What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers." The king fell into a rage, and gave orders that pans and caldrons be heated. These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying, "The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song which bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, `And he will have compassion on his servants.'" (2 Mac 7:1-6).

The rest of the account relates that the king tries to persuade each son to transgress their Jewish customs, yet after each refuses and retorts with courageous words the king orders the mother’s sons to be tortured in more or less the same gruesome way, one by one, but torturing the last and youngest of the brothers worst of all. Finally the king then has the mother tortured and killed. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition this mother is referred to as St. Solomonia, and according to a rabbinical tradition she is interestingly known as Miriam which is the Hebrew equivalent of Mary.

There are many things that are striking about this account but let us focus on the courage of the mother and the sorrow she must have undergone in seeing all seven of her sons tortured and killed before her. Although she would have desired to have the lives of her sons spared, she preferred their physical death to what she believed would have been their spiritual death and damnation, or if not this, at least a lesser kind of spiritual death if they ate of the swine’s flesh which was forbidden to them by the Law of Moses. She thus encourages her sons to stand fast boldly and to be martyrs of their faith –dying for reparation of the sins of Israel (Mac 7:32, 37-39), and in obedience to God’s Will, whilst she knows that they will all be reunited in the afterlife and will attain the glory of the resurrection (Mac 7:14b). The mother encouraged the youngest of her sons as follows:

"My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again with your brothers." (2 Mac 7:27-29).

The Crucified Jesus and Mary at the Foot of the Cross


Mary at the Foot of the Cross
The above account serves as a fitting allegory for our Lady at the foot of the Cross, for as the mother beheld each of her seven sons die, so too did our Lady behold Her own beloved Son die on the Cross. As the seven brothers were innocent and were killed for doing what was right and just, so too our Lord Jesus who was Innocence Incarnate, was killed for doing what was right and just –for simply spreading the Good News of God’s Merciful Love. Just as King Antiochus sought to persuade the seven brothers to abandon their identity as Jews, they resisted and willingly laid down their lives; so too Pontius Pilate sought to persuade Jesus to forsake His identity as the Jewish Messiah in order to set Him free; and before Caiaphas the High Priest Jesus also had an opportunity to shy away and deny His identity, but instead He resisted such temptations and willingly laid down His life on the Cross. The mother and her seven sons died a martyr’s death for the sins of Israel, in order to ‘make up’ for the idolatry and faithlessness of many of the Jewish people who had abandoned their faith to the paganism of the Greeks. Likewise Jesus died as the Martyr of Martyr’s in order to ‘make up’ for the sins of Israel and the whole world, and for the sins of our very selves. The Blessed Virgin Mary also died a martyr’s death, a white martyr’s death without the shedding of Her blood; because at the foot of the Cross Her pains were so great in seeing Her Son die, the very Son whom She nursed as a babe, that it was truly worse than death, for indeed for a mother it is far less of a death to die herself, than it is to see the death of her own child. And these pains our Lady suffered at the foot of the Cross were Co-Redemptive because they were perfectly joined and were a very sharing in Christ’s Redemptive sufferings (Col 1:24), and thus Her martyrdom like the mother in the Maccabean account was –but in an extraordinary way – for the reparation of the sins of Israel and the whole world, and for our very own sins.

The Seven Sorrows of our Lady


We might also draw a further parallel in reference to the Seven Sorrows of our Lady. These sorrows are traditionally as follows:

1.      The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34–35) or the Circumcision of Christ
2.      The Flight into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13)
3.      The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple. (Luke 2:42–49)
4.      Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary.
5.      Jesus dies on the cross. (John 19:25)
6.      The piercing of Jesus’ side, and Mary's receiving the body of Jesus in her arms. (Mt 27:57–59)
7.      The body of Jesus is placed in the tomb. (John 19:40–42)

'Pietà', Adolphe William Bouguereau, 1876.
In consideration of these seven sorrows we can say that the seven sons in the Maccabean account represent each of the seven sorrows of our Lady. For just as the mother lost her seven sons, so too each of the seven sorrows of our Lady in seeing Her Beloved Son suffer, were so painful that it is as if she had lost Her Son seven times. For truly an ordinary mother loves her child exceedingly so, and there is no greater human love than this example, and hence there is no greater sorrow than when a mother loses her child. But what shall we say is the sorrow of the Mother of mother’s, the most perfect and greatest of all mother’s; She who is the very Mother of God? Indeed we can hardly fathom how great Mary’s love for Jesus was, and so great was this Divine Love that palpitated in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that even the consideration of the pains of Jesus yet to come, as received in the prophecy of Simeon – who said that Her Son would “be a target of contradictions” – was so painful that She experienced the sorrow of the death of Her Son. Likewise when Mary lost Jesus for three days we might think this would hardly warrant the kind of intense sorrow that we are speaking of, but assuredly our Lady loved Jesus so much that to even have Him out of Her sight for one minute was a sacrifice beyond even the greatest of sacrifices made by all of the Saints’ sacrifices combined. Hence three days of Mary missing Her Son caused the very pain as if He had died. The greatest sorrow of our Lady was the death of Her Son on the Cross; and like Jesus She was fully aware of this pending reality throughout His life, and hence every sorrow of our Lady recalled the death of Her Son to Her mind; and even more so, brought through eternity the very reality of Jesus’ death on Calvary and its sorrow into Her heart. Thus truly as the Maccabean mother suffered the sorrow of losing seven of her sons, the Blessed Virgin Mary suffered the loss of Her Son seven times; and even then we are speaking mildly, for these are but the primary sorrows of our Lady and we could easily say that She suffered the loss of Her Son seven times seventy times. This is why one of the titles of Mary is Our Lady of Sorrows, and hence we can apply these words spoken by the Prophet Jeremiah to our Lady: “Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow which was brought upon me” (Lam 1:12).

Our Lady of Sorrows


'Mater Dolorosa', Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo, 1668/70.
The sorrows of our Lady are the very sorrows of seeing Her Son suffer, and of experiencing the loss of Her Son. Yet since Christ Jesus is the Head of the Church, and all other members of the Church are other parts of this Mystical Body (1 Cor 12:12-26), these sorrows of our Lady cannot be separated from the sorrows She has in seeing the members of the Church – who are Her children – suffer in any way. Our Lady’s sorrows thus include the sorrows She has over seeing the evils in this world, over the hatred and violence of men, over the abuse of children, the abortion of children, the blasphemies against Her Son, the sacrileges against the Eucharist, and most of all the sorrows of seeing countless souls dead in sin. She also sorrows over those who may not be dead in mortal sin, but those who are even in a state of grace but are relatively dead in a lesser sense, and these are they who live good lives but who live in their own will as opposed to living in the Divine Will, and this would apply to almost all of us practicing Catholics. In the light of this understanding we come to realise that our sins, our resentments against others, our slanders and harsh judgments, are all wounds which we cause to Christ and wounds which we cause to Mary our Mother. It is true that they cannot suffer now in their state of glory in heaven, but they did suffer in the past for our sins that we commit today, and hence it is as if they suffer now. We may think those who tortured the mother and her seven sons were cruel and heartless, but the reality is that we are ‘the butchers’ who butchered our Lord Jesus on the Cross, and who thus made the Mother suffer such horrendous pains. The awareness of this truth ought to humble us, and lead us to repent from the depths of our heart for having caused Jesus and Mary so much pain. A marvelous way to repay them and thus give glory to God, is to meditate and come to participate in the Cross of Christ and in the Sorrows of Mary –for this tells them that we are grateful for their sufferings. Besides, they suffered for our sake, not for their own sake; so the best thing we can do is satisfy their desire for our salvation and complete sanctification, by allowing their sufferings to bear fruit in our souls. For their sufferings are as water that nourishes the soul and makes it bear good fruit –Jesus’ sufferings have this quality by virtue of His divine nature, whereas Mary’s sufferings possess this sanctifying quality because of Her ‘fullness of grace’. So indeed the soul that meditates and enters into these sufferings of Jesus and Mary becomes as a garden that is moist and rich with all kinds of fresh and luscious produce –spiritual produce which God Father delights to feast upon.

Mary the New Rachel that ‘Weeps for Her Children’


An Icon of Rachel Weeping for Her Children
In the Book of Jeremiah we read: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” (Jer 31:15). The author of the Gospel of Matthew states how this was fulfilled when Herod slaughtered the Holy Innocents – killing “all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Mt 2:16-17). This is true on a literal level, however interpreting these Scriptures in the spiritual sense we can glean further insights which reveal that Mary is the New Rachel –the fulfillment of the Old Testament Rachel – who weeps for her children that ‘are no more’. As we mentioned, on one level the children Mary weeps for are those who are dead in mortal sin, those who are spiritually dead who do not possess the life of Christ within them. Thus the Scripture applies: “Rachel” –by which we understand as Mary – is “weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” (Jer 31:15). On another level the children Mary weeps for are those who are in a state of grace but who are still sorely imperfect and do not yet live in the Divine Will of God; and hence these children are dead –not in mortal sin – but dead compared to the fullness of life of living in the Divine Will, a fullness of life that is akin to eternal beatitude – the state of those in heaven. Hence the Scripture likewise applies: Mary the New “Rachel [is] weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” (Jer 31:15).

This passage from Jeremiah also reminds us when the Lord says along the via dolorosa (‘the way of sorrows’ which is the way of the Cross): “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” (Lk 23:28). This He says to the women who are weeping over His sufferings as He carries the cross towards Calvary. If these are the consoling words the Lord spoke to the daughters of Jerusalem, what consoling words did the Lord speak to His weeping Mother – the Daughter of Jerusalem – through the mutual exchange of their glance? “Daughter of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for your children.” For She need not weep for Herself, because our Lady the Daughter of Jerusalem was conceived without sin and had no guile in Herself to weep over unlike the daughters of Jerusalem which symbolise all of us who are born in the state of original sin and fall at least seven times a day (Prov 24:16). Thus truly we can understand how Mary is the New Rachel that weeps for Her children who are either dead in mortal sin, or dead in subjection to the finite operation of the human will. Yet as we know our faith does not stop at the Cross, it does not culminate with the shedding of tears, for the Cross and tears are necessary means to the joyful end of the mystery of the Resurrection.

Following the passage where Jeremiah states how Rachel is weeping inconsolably for her children, he speaks again saying: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,’ declares the Lord. ‘They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future,’ declares the Lord. ‘Your children will return to their own land.’” (Jer 31:16-17). When we look with the eyes of our New Testament faith through the Mariological lense, this is simply another way of saying: “This is what the Lord says to you O Mary the New Rachel: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work of suffering and your many sorrows will be rewarded,’ declares the Lord. ‘Your children who are dead in mortal sin and who belong to the land of the enemy, Satan; and your children who are dead to the life of the Divine Will and who belong to the land of the enemy of the human will, will return and be raised spiritually to life again. So there is hope for you to rejoice,’ declares the Lord. ‘Your children will be raised from their graves, you will hold them again, and those you hold already you will hold even closer; for your children will return to their own land –those in mortal sin to the state of grace, and those abiding in the human will to the Divine Will.’”

Mary’s Sorrows: The Mystical Dew


'The Israelites Gathering Manna', Ercole de' Roberti, 1490's.
We ourselves may be one of these children who are spiritually dead in one way or another, but we can number among the ranks of those children who are spiritually resurrected if we repent of our sins and for the pain they have caused our Lord and this Mother of ours; and if we endeavour to allow the tears of Mary, the tears of our Lady of Sorrows, to wash us clean and sanctify us, through mediating and entering into our Lord’s sufferings and the inseparable sorrows of our Lady. For then spiritually we will be immersing ourselves into this sanctifying water of Mary’s tears which will lead to our spiritual regeneration into deeper modes of holiness. For these tears of Mary, of our Lady of Sorrows, and of the New Rachel, are one with the Holy Spirit, and are the same waters that Christ poured out when He was pierced by a spear (Jn 19:34)–for the humanity of Christ was given to Him by Mary. These are the very waters concerning which the Lord said: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (Jn 3:5). Yes, this speaks of Baptism and Confirmation, and even the Holy Eucharist as ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’, but it also speaks of the fulfillment of one’s baptismal life which is only totally fulfilled in the one who bathes and drinks from the wellspring of our Lady’s Sorrows, such Sorrows which are the spiritual dew that encase the Manna of the Eucharist, just as the physical dew so covered the manna in the wilderness (Num 11:9). For indeed one may receive the Eucharist day after day, but as the Catechism states: the Sacraments “bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions” (CCC 1131), and if one is relying on their own imperfect dispositions (i.e. their own humility, faith, love etc.) they are sure to bear imperfect fruit as children who are alive in the state of grace for sure, but as children who are ‘dead’ to the perfection to which they are called. Yet those who bathe and drink from the wellspring of our Lady’s Sorrows, they become like the manna that was covered with dew, they invest the perfect dispositions of Mary (i.e. Mary’s humility, faith, love etc.) as their own –thus they approach the Eucharistic table with the very same perfect and immaculate dew that spiritually covers the Manna of the Eucharist. Hence even though such persons may still be imperfect they bear perfect spiritual fruit because they receive the Eucharist with Mary’s perfect dispositions and not with their own.

Bathing in the Sorrows of our Lady


Additionally the one that bathes in these Seven Sorrows of our Lady, although he be sorely sinful and imperfect like a spiritual leper, if he bathes in these waters he will be cleansed, and will possess the purity of Mary as his own. This is signified in the Scriptures when Naaman the leper is told by the prophet Elisha to bathe seven times in the Jordan River so that he will be healed. Naaman stubbornly complains yet his servant convinces him to carry out such a simple ritual because he has nothing to lose but can only gain by doing so. The Scriptures then record: “So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (2 King 5:14).

Naaman Washes in the Jordan River
In this instance we can understand Elisha to represent Jesus, Naaman as ourselves, the Jordan River our Lady, the seven immersions referring to the Seven Sorrows of our Lady and our ‘fusion’ with them, and the servant of Naaman our conscience. Hence we approach Jesus as spiritual lepers, in this case we will refer to being lepers in regards to that lesser kind of death –spiritual imperfection a.k.a. not yet living in Divine Will; and we say to Him: Lord heal us of our leprosy. He tells each of us to go to Mary and to foster devotion to Her, and to accommodate ourselves with Her Seven Sorrows – by meditating upon them, seeking to console Her through the Rosary and acts of mortification (especially of the will), and to enter into them spiritually by making Her sorrows and all thus all Her merits our own. If we do this, our Lord says we will be healed of spiritual leprosy. Yet maybe like Naaman we are repulsed by this idea –doubting in the benefit and necessity of Marian devotion for spiritual sanctity; thinking that things like consecrating oneself to Mary is ‘going overboard’ or ‘crossing the line’; as if devotion to Mary takes away from Christ. Yet if we listen to the voice of our conscience, and inform our conscience with the teachings of Truth, the teachings of Holy Mother Church which was founded on Peter by Christ; then we will hear our conscience say: “Devotion to Mary does not slight Christ, it is in fact the perfect means of rendering Him greater glory. No one comes to Father except through the Son, and no one comes to the Son except through the Mother –whether they are aware of this or not. Do not be one of those who ignores this Mother and goes to Christ without paying Her homage, for the Archangel Gabriel paid Her homage, so will not you? Indeed honour Her as the commandment demands: ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’; a commandment which Christ fulfilled by honouring Mary, and do you think that you are better than Christ to forfeit rendering Her such honour? Certainly not! So make haste and consecrate yourself to Her –immerse yourself in this mystical River- make Her virtues and merits your own, and bathe in Her Sorrows.” If we do this, then just as Naaman’s flesh was restored to that of a little child by dipping seven times in the Jordan River; our soul’s will be restored to become spiritually like ‘little children’, and as the Lord says: “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” that is, the Kingdom of living in Divine Will (Mt 18:3). This becoming ‘little children’ –who are simple and innocent – is perfectly wrought through true devotion to Mary, by uniting with Her and becoming one with Her Sorrows, for in this manner one’s ‘old man’ – as St. Paul calls it – of sin and imperfection, will be washed away so that one is spiritually regenerated, spiritually reborn and resurrected into higher levels of sanctity.

Conclusion


Finally we must remember as Mary so perfectly understood, and as the life of Christ testifies as does Her own life and that of all the Saints: “If we have received happiness from the hand of God, shall we not also receive sorrows?” (Job 2:10). For it is only those who embrace their cross of sorrows in this life that come to enjoy the delights of eternity; and the greater one’s sorrows in this life, the greater one’s joys in the next. For when that great day comes, those who are rejoicing will mourn, and those who mourn will rejoice, for to those who join Mary and follow Christ along the via dolorosa, “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away…and thus they that sow in tears shall reap in joy for they went out full of sorrow carrying seed for the sowing, but they will come back, they will come back, carrying their sheaves, full of joy.” (Paraphrase: Rev 21:4, Ps 126:5-6).


Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary



The following article expounds upon the mystery of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, drawing from Scripture and Sacred Tradition; exploring how Mary is the New Eve, and how Mary’s spiritual birth in the soul through devotion to Her leads to the growth of the life of Christ within; concluding with a poem titled: ‘Birth of Eve the New’.

 
‘The Birth of Mary’, Unknown painter, Fifteenth Century, Cologne.

The 8th of September is the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day on which the Church celebrates the Birth of Mary, who as Mother of Jesus the God-Man, is venerated by the Church as the Mother of God. In the Divine Office the Benedictus antiphon for the day contains the following words: “Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, announced joy to the whole world, for from you has risen the Sun of Justice, Christ our God. He released us from the ancient curse and made us blessed.” If Jesus’ birth is described as the arising of the Sun of Justice, Mary’s birth is the Dawning of the Sun of Mercy –for She is the one of whom it is written: “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun…”? (Song 6:10).

Mary’s Birth as the Dawn of Mercy


Mary’s Birth is the Dawn of Mercy because before the birth of Mary the world was wrapped in darkness, shrouded in the night and fog of ‘the ancient curse’ which fell upon the world through the sin of our first parents – Adam and Eve. This sin the Church calls Original Sin, because it was the first sin and is the cause of our natural separation from God and of every evil in the world. Yet as the intercessions from the Office of the day proclaim: “Sun of Justice, you showed the world was dawning in the immaculate Virgin Mary”, for having being conceived immaculately without the stain of Original Sin, Mary’s birth was truly the Dawn that scattered the darkness of the night, the Dawn that lifted the fog of the ‘ancient curse’ which barred humanity from paradise. Had not this Dawn arrived, the Word of God could not have become man; for the Word desired a pure place for His dwelling, and pure flesh for investing: a place and flesh free from shadows of impurity. After all, if the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant whereupon the Presence of God would descend was required to be made of pure gold (Ex 25:17), how much more ought to have been the very womb, flesh and soul of Mary, wherein God Himself descended and dwelt among us. Indeed such was the Blessed Virgin Mary, for Her body and soul in the womb of Ann her mother, was like the purest of gold that laid hidden beneath the veil of soil. Yet this Pure Gold who is Mary was pulled forth from the womb of Ann as gold is retrieved from the soil; and this Gold as an immaculate mirror shimmered in the darkness as the Dawn; wherefore the second antiphon for the Office of the day states: “When the sacred Virgin was born, then the world was filled with light” (Lauds) – and this Light is God, is Christ, whom Mary – “full of grace” (Lk 1:28)– perfectly reflected and contained.


Mary as the New Eve


St. Paul refers to Jesus as the Second Man or the Last Adam[1]; for indeed whilst in the first Adam “all die” and are contaminated by Original Sin, “in Christ [the New Adam] shall all be made alive” into new creations cleansed of every sin (1 Cor 15:22). The Early Church Fathers elaborated upon this theological parallel – between the first Adam and Christ the New Adam. Yet they also developed the parallel between Mary and Eve, and this understanding is apparent at least as early as Saint Justin Marty (100-165 A.D.). For whilst the Scripture calls Eve “the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20) as the biological mother of all men and the ecological mother of all creation, Mary the New Eve is “the mother of all living” in the spiritual sense –for “in reality it is from Mary… [that] Life was truly born to the world. So that by giving birth to the Living One, Mary became the mother of all living.”[2] Furthermore Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit gives spiritual birth to those who enter into the Church through Baptism; for “She is 'clearly the mother of the members of Christ' . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of [the Body of Christ, with Christ] its head.” (CCC 963).

The Church Father St. Ephrem of Syria (306-373 A.D.) elaborates upon this parallel between Eve and Mary:

Mary gave birth without having relations with a man. As in the beginning Eve was born from Adam without a carnal relationship, so it happened for Joseph and Mary, his wife. Eve brought to the world the murdering Cain; Mary brought forth the Lifegiver. One brought into the world him who spilled the blood of his brother (Gen 4:1-16); the other, him whose blood was poured out for the sake of his brothers. One brought into the world him who fled, trembling because of the curse of the earth; the other brought forth him who, having taken the curse upon himself, nailed it to the Cross (Col 2:14).[3]

Likewise St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) regarding the Feast of Mary’s Nativity and also drawing the Eve-Mary parallel writes:

Let our land laugh and sing with merriment, bathed in the glory of this great Virgin's rising. She is the flower of the fields on which the priceless lily of the valleys hath blossomed. This is she whose delivery changed the nature that we draw from our first parents, and cleansed away their offence. At her that dolorous sentence which was pronounced over Eve ended its course; to her it was never said: In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children. She brought forth a Child, even the Lord, but she brought him forth, not in sorrow, but in joy. Eve wept, but Mary laughed. Eve's womb was big with tears, but Mary's womb was big with gladness. Eve gave birth to a sinner, but Mary gave birth to the sinless One… For Eve's disobedience, Mary offered obedience; and for Eve's unbelief, Mary offered faith.[4]

'Virgin Mary consoles Eve', Sr Grace Remington.
Yet we ought to recall what this ‘ancient curse’ is that was placed upon Eve and thus upon all women henceforth: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” (Gen 3:16). This curse is pronounced by God not because God wanted to, but because it was the automatic consequence of disobeying the divine command to abstain from eating the forbidden fruit from the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ –and don’t worry in case you forgot, Adam got his fair share of the curse too. The literal meaning of this curse is clear –especially to those who have given birth no doubt. However the spiritual ramification of this curse applies not only to women but to all people, because it meant that children born physically would be born in the state of Original Sin. So how did Mary – God in Mary – free us from this curse?

St. Paul describes how “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’” (Gal 3:13). By this it is meant that Christ took on Himself the curse of sin and death on the tree of the Cross (since the curse of the law is an extension of the curse placed on Adam and Eve), even though He was innocent and didn’t deserve such a curse. Yet it is because of His innocence that the curse of sin and death was broken on the Cross, for His innocent blood repaired for the guilt of our sins, which is symbolised by Cain’s shedding the blood of Able; and His obedience repaired for the disobedience of Adam and for all our disobediences in Adam –hence in Christ we are free from the curse of sin and death, and thus we’re able to enter into relationship with God, be forgiven for our sins, and enter into the true Eden of heaven which the sin of Adam closed.

Yet the curse of sin and death could not be perfectly broken unless there was also a New Eve, because the curse was placed upon both Adam and Eve. Although it is Christ alone who breaks the ‘ancient curse’, Mary does so in, with and through Him. This role of Co-Redemptrix Mary accomplished as the New Eve at the Foot of the Cross, where like Christ She took the curse of sin and death upon Herself. This included taking upon Herself the curse placed on Eve, because at the Foot of the Cross Mary spiritually gave birth to the Church and all its members, with Her birth pangs the sorrows She had in seeing Her beloved Son tortured on the Cross. Mary was conceived without sin, and thus She wasn't under the ‘ancient curse’ just as Christ wasn’t under the curse. Hence because this New Eve was innocent and chose to suffer the requirements of the curse ‘to bring forth children’ in pain, She thus broke the curse which humanity received through the first Eve. And although this curse still has its physical and temporal effect of causing pain during physical child birth, the spiritual and eternal effect of this curse of confining us to Original Sin and likely damnation is banished – because we are spiritually reborn through Baptism; a rebirth which the New Eve accomplished at the Foot of the Cross.

Allowing Mary to be Born in One’s Soul

 

It is a great thing to be spiritually born anew through Baptism, and this is a necessary first step. Yet it is an even greater thing for Mary to be spiritually born in the soul, for this is the deepest fulfillment of one's Baptism. Yet how is this birth of Mary accomplished in the soul? Through one’s devotion to Mary, and consecration to Her; whereby one asks Mary to eclipse all of one’s own sins, imperfections and even one’s alleged virtues and good works. Why do we say alleged? Because compared to the holiness of Mary who the Archangel Gabriel calls “full of grace” (Lk 1:28) – which is the same as saying “full of God” – our holiness, our virtues and good works are as piles of dung. Yet through our true devotion to Mary, which is not so much a series of acts but “a state of soul”[5], our works and prayers which are dung in and of themselves, are converted by Mary through Her ‘Midas touch’ into pure and priceless gold for the Kingdom of God. For though everything we do, even the best and greatest things we can do, are mere dung by themselves, if we give them to Mary and place them in Her hands and in Her Immaculate Heart, She will purify them and make “them beautiful and acceptable to her Son”[6]. In the words of the Marian master, St. Louis de Montfort:

She enriches our good works by adorning them with her own merits and virtues. It is as if a poor peasant, wishing to win the friendship and favour of the king, were to go to the queen and give her an apple - his only possession - for her to offer it to the king. The queen, accepting the peasant's humble gift, puts it on a beautiful golden dish and presents it to the king on behalf of the peasant. The apple in itself would not be a gift worthy of a king, but presented by the queen in person on a dish of gold, it becomes fit for any king.[7]

Indeed we may go even further and say that our Lady as we have mentioned, converts our offerings such as our prayers, daily chores, penances etc. into spiritual gold; or else we might say that She converts them from vessels filled with water to vessels filled with wine; from handfuls of darkness to handfuls of light. And the beauty of this great gift, this secret and shortcut to holiness –because we’re veiling ourselves with Mary’s own Holiness which is the Holy Spirit – is that it can occur in all of us, all we need to do is give all of ourselves to Mary and surrender all of our works into Her hands, taking and using Her own virtues –especially Her love – as our own, because this is the perfect way of drawing nearer to Jesus, and thus nearer to God. John the Beloved and St. Joseph knew this, that is why they were the closet of all men to Jesus whilst He lived on earth, for they were the nearest of all men to the Virgin Mary.

Yet what does this true devotion, this consecration, union and nearness to Mary bring about in the soul? The spiritual birth of Mary in the soul. For indeed Christ lives in the soul who is Baptised, and even more so in the one who devoutly receives Holy Communion and sustains the life of Jesus by feeding Him with the food of her daily prayers and acts of neighbourly love. For the Scripture says: “When did we see you hungry and feed you? … “Whenever you did it to the least my brethren you did it unto me.” (Mt 25:37, 40). Yet although Christ lives in such a soul, unless Mary is born and thus comes to abide in such a soul, Christ will live a miserly existence in this soul –living off of mediocre food, dwelling in a cheapskate house –or rather tent, and all in all He will be surviving yes, but He will be feeling rather malnourished and semi-neglected. Why? Because the soul is imperfect, and she can only cater for Christ her Beloved who dwells within Her being as a hungry infant, in an imperfect manner. For no matter how hard she tries, no matter how long she prays, and no matter how much she serves her neighbours, her nurturing of the life of Christ within her will be lacking.

'Breastfeeding. Madonna and Child', Guido Reni, 1628.
Yet if the soul is truly devoted to Mary and seeks to live in Her and to have this Spotless Eve live within the garden of her soul, then this Eve will turn such a soul’s garden into a New Eden, into a sacred paradise for Christ to dwell in. The words of St. Augustine marking the Feast of Mary’s Nativity can be used to describe this transformation of those souls in whom Mary is born: “Let our land laugh and sing with merriment, bathed in the glory of this great Virgin's rising. She is the flower of the fields on which the priceless lily of the valleys hath blossomed.” Furthermore, since Mary is perfect by grace and is the Mother of God, She will be able to cater for Jesus in a perfect manner, and will become the Glorious Temple in which this holy Babe can live in within us. Hence the soul in whom Mary is born, is a soul in which Christ delights in, and lives in luxury – for in such a soul He is pampered by the Virgin Mary who knows how to pamper Her Son as only a mother can. And the food with which Mary pampers Christ within such a soul, is the soul’s very own imperfect offerings which Mary seasons with Her own virtues and thus makes flavorsome and divine.

The introduction to ‘The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ in the 1962 edition of the Tridentine daily missal offers a glorious account of what it means for Mary to be born into one’s soul, and it is an ideal means of concluding this section:

At the time of Mary’s birth the whole world was plunged in darkness… [but] when Mary was born a light arise amid the darkness: the dawn of the glorious day that was to usher in the Redeemer. So, too, the darkness of the sinner’s soul is dispersed by Mary’s holy influence. Where the love of her is born in the soul, all becomes full of light, and Jesus comes to make His habitation there. Mary, in the first hour of her life, brought more glory to God than all the Saints of the Old Testament. In her were made perfect the obedience of Abraham, the chastity of Joseph, the patience of Job, the meekness of Moses, the prudence of Josue [Joshua]. It is because she is the model and pattern of these and all other virtues that she can communicate them to us.[8]


Birth of Eve the New


Finally, I would like to end with a poem which I have written in commemoration of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It interlinks all of the concepts explored within this article:

The earth was dark,
Shrouded by the mist of ancient curse,
With smell of death and hate making worse
World’s sickly state;
As each creature cried “please reverse!”

Yet nothing could be done
Since first Eve who was named
‘Mother of all living’
Gave birth instead to death
In form of violent Cain;
And flesh ours from this womb came.

But hope remained,
For though man was barred from tree of life
T’was replanted in Joachim’s wife,
As Eve the New
Who was destined to break curse of strife.

For here at last earth held
-From Adam New’s pierced side-
In arms that babe from rib
Whose birth was dawn bright morning,
Source of curse reversing,
Hope of our rebirthing,
And cause of Christ’s rejoicing:
In those in whom birth of Eve the New
Was wrought as welcomed morning dew.


[1] 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45.
[2] Epiphanius, Panarion, 374-377 A.D.
[3] Ephrem of Syria, Diatessaron 2, 2; SC 121, 66.
[4] Augustine, Second Nocturne of Matins.
[5] Louis Marie de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, Part 1: True Devotion to our Lady in General, Chapter 1, 119.
[6] Ibid., Part II: Perfect Devotion to our Lady, Chapter 4, 146.
[7] Ibid., 147.
[8] The Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual: ‘From the Editio Typica of the Roman Missal and Breviary, 1962,’ 5th ed., Baronius Press: London, 2011, The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, p.1473.